There is an urgent need for cost-effective, non-invasive tools to detect early stages of gastrointestinal cancer (colorectal, gastric, and esophageal cancers). Despite many publications suggesting circulating metabolites acting as accurate cancer biomarkers, few have reached the clinic. In upper gastrointestinal cancer this is critically important, as there is no test to complement gold-standard endoscopic evaluation in patients with mild symptoms that do not meet referral criteria. Therefore, this study aimed to describe and solve this translational gap. Studies reporting diagnostic accuracy of metabolomic blood-based gastrointestinal cancer biomarkers from 2007 to 2020 were systematically reviewed and progress of each biomarker along the discovery–validation–adoption pathway was mapped. Successful biomarker translation was defined as a composite endpoint, including patent protection/FDA approval/recommendation in national guidelines. The review found 77 biomarker panels of gastrointestinal cancer, including 25 with an AUROC >0.9. All but one was stalled at the discovery phase, 9.09% were patented and none were clinically approved, confirming the extent of biomarker translational gap. In addition, there were numerous “re-discoveries,” including histidine, discovered in 7 colorectal studies. Finally, this study quantitatively supports the presence of a translational gap between discovery and clinical adoption, despite clear evidence of highly performing biomarkers with significant potential clinical value.

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